Aston Villa and Derby look to avenge recent Wembley heartbreak.
The unpredictability of the Championship, particularly the play-offs, is very much part of the allure – you might get served up some dross, you might witness something truly special. That’s why it’s such a fantastic league.
One thing’s for sure though: if this season’s play-off final is even half as exciting as the two semi-finals, we’re in for a real treat.
Leeds and West Brom have both fallen in spectacular style, leaving Aston Villa—in this position for the second season in-a-row—and Derby to fight for promotion. What better way to wash away the memory of that horrendous FA Cup final than a proper, blood-and-thunder affair between two sides who have endured their fair share of agony over the past decade or so?
As I mentioned, Villa succumbed to Fulham in last season’s play-off final, and generally speaking, this galvanises sides should they return to Wembley the following season – much like Crystal Palace in 1997 or West Ham in 2005. The last team to lose consecutive play-off finals in the second-tier was Leicester City in 1993; Dean Smith will be rather keen to avoid adding his side to his list.
Derby’s last play-off outing at Wembley was in 2014 against QPR where Bobby Zamora’s late winner—which was rather gift-wrapped by Richard Keogh—broke the Rams’ hearts.
There’s no doubt Villa have had the edge over Derby this season. 4-0 and 3-0 victories home and away respectively is part of the reason why Villa are favourites on Monday, but Derby’s sensational comeback at Elland Road against Leeds suggests Frank Lampard’s young, hungry side aren’t fazed by anything – no mountain is too high.
This said, I’m still backing Villa to lift the trophy. You felt there could be serious long-term ramifications for them after last season’s final defeat, but Smith has ensured they come into this a much better side than last year.
Derby shouldn’t ever be counted out, especially in a one-off game like this, but Villa just look the part: from Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe at the back to Tammy Abraham up top. They’re just a brilliant side. I can’t see them losing yet again, which is why they are my pick to secure promotion.
One huge part of Villa’s success this season has been Tammy Abraham.
The 21-year-old has scored a whopping 26 goals this season—including strikes in both of Villa’s matches against Derby—and you have to feel he’s the one stand-out marksman amongst both squads.
Conor Hourihane is another player who I can see scoring, but when push comes to shove, Tammy is the man who generally delivers, which is why I'm backing him to score at any time.
A hugely contributory factor to the play-off drama this season was ill-discipline. Across the four matches, THIRTY THREE yellow cards and four red cards were issued. Those are staggeringly high numbers.
I don’t expect Monday’s match to be quite as feisty, but nine bookings in the couple of games between these two earlier in the season suggests there is plenty of needle.
50+ booking points is certainly obtainable with this one. And I (like most neutrals, I’m sure) hope things properly kick off once again.